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I have to admit it. I’m impressed.
When I published a post a few months ago about why the Yankees shouldn’t sign Masahiro Tanaka, I didn’t expect him to adjust to Major League Baseball so quickly. Given, the main point I was trying to make was that the money spent on Tanaka would be better used to sign other, cheaper free agents, I didn’t necessarily buy into the dominant pitcher that Tanaka was being hyped as.
Even after going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in Japan last season, I wasn’t convinced with everything that supposedly came along with Tanaka, and fully expected him, wherever he wound up, to struggle a little bit, having never pitched a game at the big league level.
But that hasn’t happened.
If anything, though he’s had his struggles at times, Tanaka has been better than his previous seasons in Japan, currently sitting in the top five among American League pitchers in the strikeout category, with 51 through 42.2 innings pitched. Only recording more strikeouts than innings pitched once in his seven year career in Japan, Tanaka is off to as good of a start as anyone — Yankees fans most of all — could’ve hoped for.
Moving to 4-0 with a 2.53 ERA after Saturday’s win against the Rays, Tanaka looks to continue stretching his winning streak without a single loss out as the season goes on. Although it’s very unlikely that Tanaka will remain perfect for the entire length of a second straight season, his performance each and every start will be a key factor in what kind of season the Yankees have.
However, even with the great pitching outings, Tanaka isn’t winning games on his own. The Yankees have been good, for the most part, up and down the lineup, with several players getting big hits in big spots to provide some run support. And that includes Jacoby Ellsbury just as much as anyone, who has been tremendous as their leadoff hitter.
As with Tanaka, however, I was quick to judge the Yankees’ offseason signing of Ellsbury.
Though Ellsbury can be a big impact player when healthy, that’s the issue — he hasn’t succeeded in staying healthy very often. While most of his injuries in the past have been freak injuries, Ellsbury comes along with a certain form of caution, and that lead to concern from myself to just what type of player the Yankees were getting. But with the way he’s been performing for the Yankees so far this season, Ellsbury could very well lose the injury prone tag that has stuck with him for years.
Currently batting .356 on the year to go along with ten stolen bases, and hitting his first home run of the season on Saturday, Ellsbury has been a key piece to the Yankees’ team, and one of the reasons they’ve been able to get off to such a good start, currently sitting atop the American League East division standings.
The bottom line: Masahiro Tanaka is good, Jacoby Ellsbury is good, and the Yankees apparently know what they’re doing. Though I’m sure I’ll find myself doubting certain trades and signings next offseason, the performances of Tanaka and Ellsbury, along with many others, proves that you never truly know whether a move is a good one or a bad one until the season starts. Until then, there’s always the chance that you can be proven wrong.
This particular time, it appears to have happened to me twice.
Although I felt the Yankees would be better off using their money to sign other free agents to fill their bullpen and positional needs, the Yankees have decided to lock up Masahiro Tanaka for seven years, giving him a contract worth 155 million dollars. As many people around the baseball world are discussing, this is truly a lot of money for a pitcher who’s never played in the Major Leagues.
Despite reportedly wanting to remain under the 189 million dollar luxury tax threshold, this deal to Tanaka blows right past that. The Yankees have now spent nearly 500 million dollars this offseason, with the biggest additions being Tanaka (155 million), Jacoby Ellsbury (153 million), Brian McCann (85 million) and Carlos Beltran (45 million). But even with all the money spent, they still have holes in their overall team.
The Yankees need at least one more good bullpen pitcher, preferably a solid closer, and have an average, at best, infield. With it uncertain how Derek Jeter will perform this season — coming of an injury plagued 2013 season — there are still a lot of questions surrounding the deal. (Now that the Yankees have passed the threshold, I suppose spending more money to acquire their needs isn’t that big of a concern.)
It’s been reported that the Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox, Astros and Diamondbacks all made runs at Tanaka, with at least one team possibly outbidding the Yankees. But ultimately, Tanaka chose the bigger stage of New York City, where he will likely begin as the second or third man in their starting rotation.
Tanaka becomes the receiver of the fifth largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history, just behind Clayton Kershaw’s 215 million over 7 years, Justin Verlander’s 180 million for 7 years, Felix Hernandez’s 7-year, 175 million dollar contract, and C.C. Sabathia’s 160 million for 8 years. That says a lot for the type of pitcher Tanaka is, but it’s somewhat risky, even for a pitcher who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year in Japan, since, as stated earlier, he has never pitched a single MLB inning.
If everything works out as the Yankees planned, and are certainly hoping for, then the signing of Masahiro Tanaka could go a long way to helping them return to the playoffs in 2014 (many people are predicting just that). But if there are any bumps in the road, you could be seeing a lot of regret in New York.
As things look now, however, the future looks to be bright.